Meg Wolitzer’s book The Interestings came out a couple of years ago (and is now available in paperback, which I love. My entire bookcase is paperbacks.) You’ve probably seen the cover. It’s the story of six teenagers (which is really just the story of the main character, Jules) that chronicles their lives from the age of 15, when they meet at a camp for gifted children, to their adulthood. It’s about their loves and losses, their marriages and kids, their relationships.
I read The Interestings two summers ago, blowing threw it during all-night babysitting gigs. I remember sitting on the couch, two kids asleep in the bedroom, and five hours later the parents came home. I hadn’t moved. The kids hadn’t moved. The story literally had be riveted in one spot.
This is one of those books that unspools better than the best real-life drama television shows. Nothing on screen can age characters like a book can, take you through their triumphs and downfalls. We can watch as some people get more famous than others, as Jules wonders if she ever did anything right. Was fifteen really the peak of her existence? Did she marry the right man?
I didn’t think I’d find another book like The Interestings. Nothing could possibly come close to its sweeping saga. And yet I kept looking. Finally, in March, in the Goodreads newsletter, I found A Little Life.
If You Want a Happy Book
Do not read A Little Life. If you want a real book, something that wrenches at your gut and heart, that makes you think and feel. If you want a book that makes you want to write love letters to the main characters, that convinces you that you can, that they are real and alive, then read Hanya Yanagihara’s quiet epic.
Again, this is the story of friends, four instead of six, but it really focuses in on one of them. Jude meets his group in college, and they are all on their own paths. JB wants to paint. Willem wants to act. Malcolm wants to build great arching towers like the models he constructs so carefully. And Jude wants to live, and maybe, one day, be happy.
It’s a story of abuse. Terrible, horrific abuse that unfolds slowly in the backstory, that affects everything Jude encounters. It’s a story about drugs, and bad relationships. It’s a story about how the friends you think you’ll know forever drift apart.
But it’s also a story about growing up–the book follows these men from their early twenties to old age, to death. And it’s about true love. Finding your passion. Becoming famous. Becoming rich. Getting back together with old friends you’ve grown apart from.
This is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read in my life. Like The Interestings, it is long, seven hundred dense pages long, but it is one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve ever had.
If you like truthful stories, realistic triumphs, then try to track down a copy of A Little Life.
Unfortunately, There’s A Problem
I don’t know why, but whenever I really love a book, I look for it in a bookstore. Even if I already own it. The Interestings should be all over your local library and/or bookstore. It’s even out in paperback now, so you’ve got a week or more worth of reading for fifteen bucks.
But A Little Life is nowhere to be found. Outside of reading it on your e-reader, like me (I have a Nook, it’s amazing, super useful if you want to carry some of your library with you in college) or ordering it from an online retailer, it’s pretty difficult to find. Maybe because its themes are so dark? Maybe because it’s so dense? Maybe because its cover is real and stark and a bit off-putting? I don’t know why some books are easy to find and others aren’t, but A Little Life is in the latter category.
Fortunately, once you get your hands on the copy, it’s way easier to share than a digital movie. No need to authorize a computer, or have good wi-fi strength. Just a simple in-person interaction, the same thing both these books are based off of.
UPDATE: as of March 2016 I know see A Little Life absolutely everywhere (yay!!) and it recently came out in paperback.